Another County Voices Opposition To Backcountry Fees At Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Opposition continues to mount in the counties surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park to backcountry fees the park instituted earlier this year.

Earlier this week the Knox County (Tennessee) Commission voted to follow Bradley and Blount counties in Tennessee and Swain County in North Carolina in condemning and calling for a repeal of the park's backcountry fee.

The backcountry fee of $4 per night per person, with a $20 per person cap per trip, took effect February 13. It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry.

Pinched by an inadequate budget and unable to charge an entrance fee for any of the roughly 9 million yearly visitors, park officials see no way of improving visitor services and protecting backcountry resources without charging users who spend the night in the woods.

Great Smoky Mountains officials are aware of the counties' opposition, but have no plans in the near-term to do away with the fee system.

"We are aware of the county actions and understand the concerns expressed regarding the park’s new backcountry management program. We remain confident that we have implemented a backcountry program that has greatly improved service for our backcountry users including backcountry information office staff and a 24-7 online reservations system," said Dana Soehn, a spokeswoman for the park.

"As the program has been in operation for only about six weeks, we will continue to monitor its effectiveness and review the feedback we receive from the public and users of the new system."

Comments

Translation, "We still gon't give a crap that the largest county in E. Tn, the birthplace of the Smokies, opposes our taxing grab on citizens". This arrogance is typified and rampant throught Jarvis NPS. If you look in the NPS directory there are about 5 people whose last name is Jarvis in the email system. If you pull up Ditmanson you will find two park superintendents with that name, (brothers, of course). At least they are consistent in their disregard of public sentiment. It is their park and we are "their" customers. Now quit bothering us with your opinions and go about your business so we can go about finding ways to charge you to use your land.

"It is intended by park officials to help streamline and improve the backcountry permitting process and heighten the presence of rangers in the backcountry."

And they are still pushing this BS that the fee is going to fund backcountry rangers. We found that in their own documents, obtained through a FOIA request, they state that the fee will result in no additional funds for the park. It will only pay for the system to collect the fee. Ditmanson also told us, in person, that if it did result in additional funds they would not be earmarked for the backcountry but go into the general fund. Check it out for yourself at www.southernforestwatch.com This is not about the $4 it is about an arrogant, overbearing, imperial NPS.

"As the program (backcountry fee) has been in operation for only about six weeks, we will continue to monitor its effectiveness and review the feedback we receive from the public and users of the new system."

I had to laugh when I read this last sentence. Do I believe the Park is going to review feedback they receive from the public now? I don't think so. Apparently they did not listen to the more than 800 submitted comments opposing the backcountry fee a couple of years ago (45 comments were also submitted in favor of the fee) during the public review/comment period.

We believe the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process used to implement the $4 fee on backcountry camping was severely flawed because it allowed the National Park Service to make those changes even though they misrepresented their proposal and then selectively ignored the majority of public comments (>800 comments against the backcountry fee and 45 comments for the backcountry fee either emailed to the Park or mailed through the postal service. This information was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Southern Forest Watch from the Park Service). The Park Service basically just went through the required legal steps to advertise the change and solicit public input. They held two early evening meetings during the same week (Tuesday and Thursday) and did not document any of the verbal comments made to Park personnel by those attending the meetings. The Park Service was never obligated to accept any of our advice.

Seeing the blatant disregard for public opinion by the NPS, we feel that what we really need is a complete revamping of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process. We'd like to see that process replaced with one that is more transparent and accountable to the public and gives us some path to appeal any rulemaking that appears to be based upon misrepresentations and/or bias against all logic--not to mention actions that are clearly at odds with the majority of public opinions.

Al Smith and Janice Henderson

So let's see . . . as of now that's Blount County, Swain County, Bradley County, Monroe County, and Knox County which have condemned the tax on backcountry users and called for its immediate repeal. Elected local government officials are at least giving voice to the 95% of the public which expressed opposition to the tax. Federal government bureaucrats paid them no heed, lied about their numbers and opposition, and tried initially to obstruct the Freedom Of Information Act request.

But now they're "going to review feedback." When pigs fly.

I had hoped that the NPS would have listen to the Largest County to the Smokey Mountains and not charged this fee. I guess FDR was correct that in a 100 years the park would not be free. His prediction was just off a few years, it is sad that my ancestors were lied too that they would always have free access to the burial sites.

I am writing this as someone not familar with all the history or politics involved in this issue only as a lover of our parks and the backcountry. While it would be great if all of our parks were free I realize that maintaining them does not come free. I am always more than happy to pay a small fee for places and things I enjoy. I'd much prefer this over being taxed for things I don't support. It's always amazed me that there is no enterance fee to the smokies. It would seem like that would have been the more rational place to start but I can only assume that the legality of this forced them to look elsewhere to raise funds? At any rate I am surprised by the level of oposition to a small fee. Guess I need to dig deeper and see what I am missing.

Wild places, I would suggest you go to www.southernforestwatch.org and click the link entitled, "follow the deception". What we are talking about here, and why folks are so out of joint isn't the four dollars. It is the continued manipulation of scientific data that seems to describe the NPS these days. There is a list of documented deceptions that is straight from Jon Jarvis NPS playbook whenever you want to justify something wrong. The manipulation of scientific data in the Smokies is Ditmanson's mischaracterization of public comments, patently false assertions about backcountry campsite overcrowding and innuendo regarding "resource degradation" in the backcountry that are completely blown out of the water with freedom of information act requests. THere is a lawsuit in place and these details will come to light. I hope that it has implications for all of Jarvis NPS system wherein he has pulled similar stunts. His Superintendent has a track record of cronyism and dishonesty. That is more of the issue than the fee, at this point.